Your dog has lunged or leapt up at someone, has pulled towards another dog as if with evil intent, tugs you towards whatever he wants to sniff.
So you shorten the lead and keep a tight hold on it.
I understand. I can see why this habit has developed.
But did you know that if you do the very opposite as soon as your dog sees something you think he’ll pull towards, he’ll actually relax and stop pulling?
Tightening the lead when your dog sees something that worries him triggers the “fight or flight” reflex. He’s trapped so he can’t flee. So his only option (he thinks, in his moment of fear) is to launch an attack. This is usually confined to noise and bluster and no damage is intended.
But it can result in a “redirected bite” where your dog’s frustration at being restrained causes him to grab the nearest thing - his lead, your hand, your leg …
(If your dog has actually bitten and caused damage, see note further down.)
The right tool for the job
Struggling to control your dog with a lead 3 foot or shorter is making life impossible for both of you.
Your dog only has to move an inch or two away from you to make the lead tight.
And if you have the lead wound six times round your hand and held in a vice-like grip, he is feeling pressure the whole time. When you walk hand in hand with a friend, you don’t grip their hand tightly and clamp it to your side. You don’t frogmarch them along the road without allowing them to pause and look at anything!
So give your dog some freedom, and relieve your shoulders of the ache.
Get a 6-8 foot long lead. Choose one made of Softex or other such material which is soft on the hands, with no sharp edges to cut or burn.
Some of the best ones are called “training leads” and have a trigger clip at each end, with several rings down the length of the lead you can connect them to. This gives you three different lead lengths, and the ability to fix it round your hips or bandolero-style across your body, and have hands-free walking.
You can get them in lovely colours too!
You can certainly have a leather lead if you prefer, but you may have to work it to soften it enough to be easy to gather and slide through your hands. A lead is only as strong as its weakest part, so check that metal parts are welded, stitching is sturdy, and there are no rough edges.
Now you can give your dog a bit of freedom!
- He can pause to sniff (wait a moment then suggest he comes with you)
- He can assess people passing or dogs approaching without feeling trapped (keep your hold on the lead soft)
- You will relax!
- Your dog will relax!
If you need to keep your dog leashed when you’re in a larger area, away from the road, a 15 foot line is ideal. You don’t leave it trailing on the ground to get all muddy and wet and yucky, you gather it in your hands so that you can gently let it out and gather it in as necessary. There’s a safe way to do this, so that your fingers don’t get broken when your dog lurches forward, and you’ll find detailed instructions in the online course: From Growly Dog to Confident Dog
Of course you must ensure the safety of others. So if your dog has bitten and caused damage you need to a) start teaching him to enjoy wearing a muzzle, and b) look for a force-free professional to help you.
For a young puppy I like to use a “house line” - an 8-foot light line with no handle. This one can be left trailing in house or garden, and provides an easy way to capture your racing puppy! It's also great for roadwalks, to give your puppy the freedom she needs to explore her environment without being hauled about by the neck.
So when your little pup plonks her bottom firmly on the pavement and says “Not moving,” you can wait at the end of the (slack) lead until she’s assessed the danger of the crocodile pit she thought she saw in front of her and decided to move again.
I had an email for help from a new owner, complaining about her 10-week-old puppy’s stubbornness when walking on the road. I suggested she re-read her email, replacing the words “stubborn” and “obstinate” with “fearful” and “worried”. She got the point straight away and started treating her little pup with the same kindness and patience as she already extended to her children.
There’s no need to become the “master” of a dog
They are family, not staff.
I feel like crying whenever I see a puppy being dragged along the pavement - sometimes upside down. Yes, really. This happens.
Would you drag a frightened toddler along the pavement upside down?
Just give her a second or two …
Lead Skills are important for all dog-owners to learn. And if you have a shy, fearful, reactive, or aggressive, dog, it’s even more important that you can make the connection with your dog that a lead affords, and send only good messages down it! Think how soft-handed equestrian stars are.
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Go and check out all the elements of the course that could transform life with your difficult dog.